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Posts tagged ‘breastfeeding’

Pregnancy, Nursing and Marijuana: What’s the Real Story?

By Trevor Storrs, Alaska Children’s Trust Executive Director

With the passing of the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska nearly two years ago, there has been a lot of conversation regarding the potential impacts, good and bad. One of the controversial topics discussed has been pregnant and nursing mothers using marijuana and its potential effects on newborns.

First, let me say that I’m neither a doctor nor a medical expert of any kind. Rather, this post is to inform you about the main arguments for and against marijuana use while pregnant and nursing. There are so many conflicting opinions on the topic that the sheer amount of information can make it difficult to determine how much merit to afford any of the research. So, rather than you looking through countless disparate articles, I’ve collected the main research that seemed to be accepted as true across the many articles reviewed.

It is important to note that all the literature published on the topic is based on research methods like surveys, self-reported data, and tertiary forms of testing (infant development and levels of THC in breastmilk) (Beckett, 2016). The most valid research would involve controlled human studies; however, this would be unethical. Marijuana is equated with heroin in regards to its potential for harm, so researchers can’t expose pregnant or nursing mothers to cannabis to test its effects. This isn’t to suggest that the research conducted thus far is invalid; it just means there are other research methods that could better control confounding variables.

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Research has shown correlations between cannabis use during pregnancy and fetal harm:

  • There have been reports documenting a decrease in fetal growth (Merritt, Wilkinson, & Chervanak, 2016).
  • It’s also been found that pregnant women who use cannabis are at a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth (Abuse, n.d.).
  • In addition, prenatal exposure has been correlated with a two to three times increased risk of subsequent child maltreatment (Merritt, et al., 2016).

This data was collected from the states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington).

There’s no safe amount of cannabis to consume during pregnancy, despite the reason for using and the method used to ingest it (Good to Know, n.d.). Some women think that since it’s legal, then cannabis must be safe, but the legality does not constitute its safety.

Additionally, people discount cannabis’ harm because it’s a naturally occurring substance (Good to Know, n.d.). The issue with that argument is that it suggests that all naturally occurring things are safe to consume. Since that’s not true, it can’t be used to support the lack of harm that cannabis poses. There are several naturally occurring substances that are harmful for you and your baby: lead, tobacco and poisonous berries are a few (Good to Know, n.d.). The bottom line is that the potential for harm from cannabis use during pregnancy is high.

If the risks of cannabis use during pregnancy do not pose enough of a threat, there have been even more negative effects found from cannabis use while breastfeeding. The reigning opinion is to avoid cannabis for the entire time you choose to breastfeed your child. Even though it’s preferred that you breastfeed for a year, doctors recommend that mothers breastfeed for a minimum of six months (Conover, 2016). In just one feeding, an infant will ingest 0.8 percent of the weight adjusted maternal intake of one joint, and the infant will excrete THC in their urine for two to three weeks after (Merritt, et al., 2016).

Research has found that infants exposed to cannabis through breastmilk exhibit decreased motor development and executive functioning, and poor sucking reflex. Meanwhile, mothers who use cannabis have a reduced milk supply. When you consider the poor sucking reflex and reduction in milk supply in conjunction, you get an infant with an increased risk of what’s officially called “failure to thrive,” which occurs when the infant is undernourished and fails to meet milestones in his or her first year of life.

This is a fairly new topic that has been assigned a lot of stigma and misconceptions, and the last thing I want is to add to that. The facts presented here are simply for educational purposes. What you do after reading them is entirely up to you. I’m not here to pass judgment or tell you how to live your life, but I do feel an obligation to advocate for Alaska’s children.

Children deserve every opportunity afforded to them, and parents sacrifice a lot to give their children those opportunities. However, when you use cannabis while pregnant or nursing, you are putting all those sacrifices at risk. Don’t take away from your child’s well-being before they’ve even taken their first breath. Make the sacrifice, and give your child every opportunity to thrive.

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Empowering Moms for Breastfeeding Success

By Jennifer Willeford

ACT.PCG.FB.coverimageNew life begins in the middle of the night and in the early hours of the morning. Mothers are created when a child enters the life of a woman. Birth is a humbling and empowering experience. All the worries and preparation subside during labor and delivery and complete calm arrives when the beautiful gift is placed into a mother’s arms. There is nothing more life affirming than holding a newborn. Nothing else matters anymore and a new journey begins.

Breastfeeding is driven by the bonding relationship of the mother and baby. It’s in the first hours, days, and weeks that a breastfeeding dyad is born. Practice makes progress and is necessary for success. Those sweet moments are fleeting and the connection needs to be guarded and protected. Mothers need to be prepared to set ground rules and the support systems need to be able to offer help that contributes to the mother’s goals. All the focus should be placed on the mother and infant. Family and friends begin to pour in and the spotlight quickly shifts to the baby. It’s hard not to be swept up in the joy and love with a sweet, soft bundle that is irresistible to hold. It is very easy to forget about mom and her needs could get lost in the shuffle.

Everyone wants to help a new mom and feeding the baby has become the coveted position. Moms are overjoyed and excited to share this beautiful gift and can have a hard time declining offers. They don’t want to deprive people the opportunity to share the experience. Breastfeeding is a chance for an infant to be at the breast and provides the opportunity to practice and learn the skills they need. Milk supply is dependent on the frequent emptying and stimulation that nursing offers. Every feeding missed at the breast can contribute to decreased supply. Every intervention creates a roadblock and potential hazard especially during the first few weeks. Mothers deserve to be stingy and set boundaries. No bottle rules can help reinforce mom’s wishes.

Having jobs and chores lined up and ready for eager helpers can prevent conflict. Emphasize that feeding is reserved for mom. People feel that “helping” after baby is born means taking care of baby but true assistance comes in the form of “supporting” the family as a new bond is formed. Mom needs to find her voice and feel confident even though she is scared and exhausted. Remind her that it’s ok that all the dishes aren’t done and the laundry is not folded. Visit her with a cup of tea or coffee in hand and offer a non-judgmental ear. In vulnerable moments mom needs guidance, a calm presence, empathy and a gentle reminder that she is doing an amazing job.

If you are visiting and unsure what to do with spare time, prepare freezer meals for the months ahead. Folding laundry and doing dishes may not seem like great jobs but they are beyond helpful. Make mom a lunch. Fill a cooler so when she sits down to breastfeed she can stay well hydrated and nourished. Bring mom a bag of healthy snacks or play a game with an older sibling. Start a meal train for the family or bring paper plates to reduce chores. Ideal opportunities to hold baby is when mom is taking a shower or sneaking a much-needed nap.

Alaska is wonderful place to raise a family. It is true that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s the responsibility of the community to give emotional support, loving guidance and create a space where families can thrive. Breastfeeding success relies heavily on empowering mothers. The most important tool a woman can have when entering the breastfeeding journey is to know there are resources, tools and people who can help. Most moms will experience a few hiccups along the way. Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mom and baby. Finding knowledgeable professionals who can aid through the challenges and find solutions to the momentary dilemmas can make all the difference.

Every woman deserves support. Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and designated breastfeeding helpers can be found in many local organizations and agencies including the WIC office at the Resource Center for Parents and Children, The Women’s Center at the Hospital and Regional Public Health Offices. Help and support is always just a phone call or visit away. Encourage, inspire and uplift the new mothers and lend a hand so they can reach their breastfeeding goals.

headshot articleJennifer Willeford is an IBCLC and works for the Resource Center for Parents and Children. She is also a trained Doula. This spring she will graduate with Bachelors of Science in Crisis Counseling, Healthcare Administration and Health Sciences. Jennifer is the mother of two little boys and is familiar with the challenges of breastfeeding after she breastfeed both boys for a total of five years. Jennifer grew up in Fairbanks and completed her A.A.S in Certified Medical Assisting and Medical Coding at UAF and is active in the community with many local groups including Fairbanks Breastfeeding Coalition, 4H and Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association.

The Best Food You Don’t Have to Buy

By Michelle Tschida, CNM, IBCLC Alaska Native Medical Center, and Tamar Ben-Yosef, All Alaska Pediatric Partnership

Here’s some food for thought: More lives could be saved annually by increasing breastfeeding rates to recommended levels than lives saved annually by car seats.

Unfortunately, breastfeeding is poorly supported in our country. Car seat laws aside, we never hear a doctor, nurse or grandparent say, “Well, using that car seat seems kind of complicated and inconvenient” or “We don’t want to make that family feel guilty about not using a car seat, so let’s not talk about it.” But parents hear those same messages when it comes to breastfeeding. What they don’t routinely hear is that their decision whether or not to breastfeed is one of the most important health decisions they will make for their child.  

Over the course of the last 30 years, the research has mounted about the overwhelming benefits to breastfeeding. Babies that are breastfed are less likely to get sick from allergies, asthma, and respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

The benefits extend beyond infancy: Breastfeeding results in lower risks of developing childhood cancers, diabetes and obesity, in addition to lowering the mother’s risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Also, though not guaranteed, mothers have found that breastfeeding, which is a high-calorie burning activity, has helped them shed their extra pregnancy weight quicker.

A recent study has shown that more breastfed babies go on to attain higher education and earn more money than do babies who were not.

Here’s some of the science: Breastmilk contains special fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids support healthy brain growth and development, placing breastfed babies in a better position to become the next Nobel laureates.

And since we’re throwing money into the mix, breastfeeding is considered an economic equalizer, meaning that all parents, regardless of race or social class, have access to the perfect food for their baby and can provide them with the best start to life.

Breastfed babies are held more and have consistent intimate contact with their mothers. This contact along with the repetitive release of the hormone oxytocin (the hormone responsible for childbirth, love, and bonding) during breastfeeding creates a special bond and closeness not easily replicated.

When we at the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership talk about the benefits of breastfeeding, there is one in particular that we look at the closest: the impact that breastfeeding has on rates of child abuse and neglect. In Alaska, where we have some of the highest rates of abuse and neglect in the nation, we also have little support for breastfeeding mothers in the areas of the state that need it most.

Women having babies in rural communities do not have access to lactation consultants like the women of Anchorage do. While our breastfeeding initiation rates are on par with other states and sometimes higher, without the much-needed support and assistance overcoming the difficulties, many of our mothers are switching to formula soon after leaving the hospital. Let’s face it, even breastfeeding does not happen stress-free.

Lastly, many smart folks have done the math and found that the U.S. would save around $13 billion per year in health care costs if breastfeeding rates increased to recommended levels.

Not motivated by doing it for your country? Do it for your own pocket, because families of breastfed babies save money, too. A year of formula costs approximately $1,300. There’s a lot you can do with $1,300, including paying a babysitter to watch the kids while the adults take a much-needed night out on a regular basis.

All of these benefits are seen best when babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, meaning no other foods or drinks are introduced before the baby is half a year old. After six months of age, the introduction of solid foods with continued breastfeeding through at least the first birthday will provide babies the best start to life.

Michelle Tschida is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She works at the Alaska Native Medical Center helping mothers deliver babies and provides assistance with breastfeeding. She is also a wife and mother of two young sons.

Tamar Ben-Yosef is the executive director for the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership, a nonprofit organization that works to improve health and wellness outcomes for children and families in Alaska through cross-sector partnerships and collaborations, education and communication.